A rodeo development supported by B.C. Agriculture Minister Pat Pimm that the provincial Agricultural Land Commission rejected as unacceptable use of valuable farm land has gone ahead without government approval.
Developer Terry McLeod, who owns the land, told The Globe and Mail in an interview from Arizona that he built rodeo facilities – including a racetrack, a five-acre parking lot and seating for 3,000 people – despite an ALC ruling in August that the land had to be protected because of its high agricultural rating.
The ALC was not aware the development had proceeded until contacted by The Globe and Mail on Tuesday.
"Well, I built the rodeo ground. I went ahead and did it all privately," Mr. McLeod said.
Mr. McLeod has been trying to get 70 hectares out of the Agricultural Land Reserve near Fort St. John to fulfill a dream of bringing big-time rodeos to northeast B.C. And with the support of his local MLA, Mr. Pimm, and the mayor of Fort St. John, he thought he was on track to get that approval this summer.
But when the ALC turned him down, he said he went ahead anyway while making plans to reapply.
Mr. McLeod said with the support of city council "and now with Pat Pimm, Agriculture Minister, on board," he feels confident he will eventually get ALC approval.
"The land that I developed into a rodeo ground … it's taken up probably – I'm gonna say 60 acres or 80 acres, easy – of land that we won't be farming anymore," he said.
Mr. McLeod said he halted construction at one point this year after getting "an anonymous e-mail … from one of the ALC people saying, 'Listen, you better stop work or it's gonna be shut down.'"
After that warning, he said, five members of the ALC, including chairman Richard Bullock, came to inspect his land as part of the review process.
He said Mr. Bullock told him nothing could stop an owner from "moving dirt"on his land.
"They walked around the whole site with us … I showed them where I wanted the camp site, I showed them where the rodeo grounds were going to be," Mr. McLeod said . "When I talked to Richard Bullock about it, the head cheese, he said well, there's no law against you moving your own dirt on your own land. Well, as soon as he said that, I went back to work … I went ahead and I finished, I completed the rodeo grounds because I had already ordered all the equipment."
Mr. McLeod said the rodeo racetrack is the same size as the one at the Calgary Stampede and he hopes to draw big crowds as early as next summer. He said a high-school rodeo and the RMCP Musical Ride have performed at the site, which he has named The Horse Park.
Mr. Bullock said on Tuesday he did not know the rodeo grounds had been built and suggested that is because the ALC does not have the resources to keep a close watch on all the farm land in B.C.
"You know we've only got so much time and so many folks to do things. It is one of the problems we've had over the years, is being able to do everything we're being asked to do," he said.
Mr. Bullock said ALC staff would look into the situation, but he declined to say what action the commission might take and he declined further comment saying: "We've done what we've done and people are going to do what they're going to do."
Ron MacLeod, head of enforcement for the ALC, said the commission has the authority to issue stop-work orders, or to go to court to have a structure removed. He said local government should not issue building permits unless a project has ALC approval.
In rejecting Mr. McLeod's application, the ALC admonished Mr. Pimm for making "inappropriate" representations. Some people are calling for Mr. Pimm to resign for trying to influence a quasi-judicial body. The Globe and Mail reported last week that Mr. Pimm has prepared a proposal for cabinet to strip the ALC of its power. He was not available for comment.
Premier Christy Clark said Mr. Pimm acted on the issue before he was in cabinet. She added she has asked B.C.'s conflict commissioner for guidance on dealing with such files.